Bringing decades of educational experience and a passion for the job, Bangor schools’ incoming superintendent said Thursday he is more than ready to get busy in his new role.
The Bangor School Committee unanimously chose James Tager, 61, as the department’s new superintendent on Wednesday. He will be only the second permanent superintendent of Bangor schools in the last 13 years. Longtime Superintendent Betsy Webb left in 2020 to become a professor at the University of Maine.
Tager served as superintendent of Flagler Schools in Florida from 2017 to 2020, a district that comprises students in the city of Palm Coast and surrounding communities north of Daytona Beach. He took a job as superintendent of the Franklin West Supervisory Union — about a half-hour north of Burlington — in 2020.
Tager grew up in Ohio, the son of two teachers. After moving to Florida to attend college, he taught in schools there for several decades before taking his first superintendent position at Flagler.
“This will be my 40th year in education,” Tager said. “I really can’t get enough of it.”
He’ll earn $150,000 a year in his new role over a three-year contract. He was chosen by the school committee from eight candidates.
He enjoyed his time in Vermont, but felt as if he was unable to be as active in community affairs as he wanted, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s had a soft spot for Maine ever since he and his wife were married in Deer Isle.
As he went deeper in the interview process, he said he progressively knew Bangor would be the right fit for him and his wife.
“The more people I met, the more genuine they were,” Tager said, “and the more interested in this I became.”
Tager was able to visit Bangor this week, touring the district’s schools and speaking with principals, teachers and students as he was shown around by interim Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedberg.
For Tager, education is a collaborative process. One of his first actions as superintendent will be to try to meet with every staff and faculty member in the Bangor School Department.
“I want to ask them what’s great about Bangor schools, and what’s one thing that could be improved,” Tager said. “You don’t learn unless you talk to everybody.”
He also wants to work with parents and members of the community, whom he sees as essential to the education system. He often makes a point to be visible to them. While at Flagler Schools, he became well-known for running in various races held at schools throughout the district.
Parents in the district want a superintendent who will continue to foster the district’s high academic standards, as well as address racial inequity, a department survey of more than 600 parents found.
An independent probe on racism at Bangor High School last year found that students at the school used racial slurs, including the N-word, and were permitted to wear attire featuring Confederate symbols. Several of the findings in the probe echoed the experiences of students of color shared in a Bangor Daily News article published last June.
Tager, who spoke of the importance of diversity to the school committee on Thursday, said that among the mentoring programs he helped create at Flagler were those that connected Black students with Black adults from the community. The program was widely successful, Tager said.
“Students seeing someone that looked like them, all of a sudden they became more invested in school,” Tager said.
Tager is unsure about what the new school year will look like, though he hopes and suspects that students will have the opportunity to learn more in-person, especially as vaccination rates rise. Yet, as he takes on his new role in Bangor, he said it would be important for him and other educators to look at what they learned from the remote and hybrid learning of the past year.
“I think what maybe interests me is the unknown,” Tager said, “because I think we’d be foolish to go back to where we were in February 2020.”